Want the Best Heartburn Relief?!
I'd have to guess the most common request I've heard during my 6 years working on the vitamin aisle in a natural food store is for products for acid reflux. And no wonder! Statistically, about 10-20% of people suffer from gastritis at least once a week, while about 50% experience it once a month.
When I've asked my customers what their doctors tell them about the cause of their chronic heartburn, the consistent answer is: a defective lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The esophogeal valve is located right about at the base of your rib cage. It separates the stomach from the esophagus, which leads up into the throat. When the LES does not shut properly, the contents of the stomach, extremely caustic from the hydrochloric acid (HCL or stomach acid) it contains, leak upwards through the valve, causing a a burning sensation in our esophagus.
This is why heartburn is frequently worse at night or the early morning. As we lie down, it's easier for burning liquid to slip through the valve. Really severe leakage can travel all the way up to the throat and affect the quality of our vocal chords, as the desperate, heartburn-hoarse professional singer who came to me for help could attest.
When I asked what she thought was the cause for her “defective” esophogeal valve, her response was “My doctor told me it's genetic.”
The singer then identified her father as also suffering from chronic heartburn as “proof.” Her reason for coming to the vitamin aisle for help was that, in addition to the proton pump inhibitor medication prescribed for her, her doc also recommended she make some diet changes.
Unfortunately, the medication was not working well and she thought I might have additional dietary suggestions other than what her M.D. had offered. This woman was frantic because her career was threatened until she could get her symptoms under control.
The explanation of a genetically defective esophagus being the cause for heartburn has always puzzled me since it doesn't really address the question of why gastritis increases with age. Wouldn't anyone born with a genetically “soft” esophageal valve that never has shut properly likely to be downing antacids as a child or teenager?
And yet that's not what we see. Characteristically this is a condition that appears with age.
Even more surprising has been that every single one of my customers with chronic heartburn who has been to see their conventional doctor for help has been put on medication to LOWER stomach acid.
Yes. You read that right.
And yet most people with gastritis complaints are prescribed a proton pump inhibitor like Prilosec to lower stomach acid.
Upon learning that a customer is on heartburn medication, my next question is always…
Did your doctor test your stomach acid levels before prescribing your acid-blocker?
NEVER ONCE has any of these medicated people ever replied YES to that question.
The irony is that studies are very clear that acid reflux is much more commonly linked to LOW stomach acid, not high.
In one study researchers found that over 30 percent of men and women past the age of 60 suffer from atrophic gastritis, a condition marked by little to no acid secretion.
Another study found that 40% of women over the age of 80 produce no stomach acid at all.
Low stomach acid wreaks havoc with our entire digestive tract.
Proper stomach acidity is not only necessary for the appropriate breakdown and absorption of both protein and minerals, but also to support a thriving microbiome in our gut.
A stomach chronically low in acidity characteristically also translates into an overly alkaline intestinal environment. This, in turn, attracts pathological microflora which crowd out probiotic ones, producing excess gas and bloating, and create what's known as “intra-abdominal pressure.”
In other words, it's more likely that the intra-abdominal pressure coming from the gas from the gut is what causes the esophageal valve to open and leak, not a “defective” valve, and not excess acidity in the stomach.
In this case, both low stomach acid and unbalanced gut flora must be corrected to address the acid reflux.
So WHY do acid-blockers make heartburn feel better if the problem is LOW stomach acid?
Conventional medication does nothing to address why the esophageal valve is being forced open: too many pathological microflora in the gut and the gas they cause. It simply reduces the amount of acidity in the stomach, so the leakage burns less when it rises into the esophagus.
So, yes, in this scenario you risk getting worse and worse over time by never being able to get off your medication.
You additionally risk exposing yourself to compromised digestion and malnutrition, as well as immune system dysfunction related to an overabundance of pathological intestinal microflora.
An excellent book that addresses low stomach acid as the true culprit behind chronic heartburn is Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You by Dr. Jonathan Wright. (Buy it here or read the WAPF book review here.)
Unfortunately, if you have already been put on heartburn medication by a conventional physician, please be aware that…
You should NEVER stop taking proton pump inhibitors cold turkey.
Please understand that these are very dangerous drugs… …you’ll develop both tolerance and dependence on them, so you can’t stop taking them without suffering serious repercussions…
You have to wean yourself off them gradually or else you’ll experience a severe rebound of your symptoms, and the problem may end up being worse than before you started taking the medication.
Read here where Dr. Mercola explains how to gradually wean yourself: Acid Reflux Caused by Too Little Acid, Not Too Much.
My theory as to why so many Americans experience chronic heartburn?
Because we're mega-stressed out and have under-functioning adrenal glands!
One of the functions of the adrenal glands is to signal to the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid. When the adrenals are too tired to do that on an ongoing basis, HCL levels can remain low day in and day out.
In my observation most adults, and many teens, have symptoms of adrenal fatigue. This would also explain why we see an increase in gastritis over time, since our adrenals do tend to slow down with both age and stress.
How often do you feel truly hungry, like ravenous?
Many of my customers with chronic acid reflux answer, “Almost never.”
If that is true for you, I encourage you to check into adrenal fatigue and this article which describes a simple, inexpensive self-test to determine whether or not you are low in stomach acid: How to Supplement with Betaine HCL for Low Stomach Acid.
As described in that article, one of the most common methods of supplementing for low stomach acid is using Betaine Hydrochloride (HCL).
Here are the recommended brands, but be sure to read the above article so you know the risks of handling this yourself and so you know the proper amounts to take:
So whatever happened to the frantic professional singer with heartburn-caused hoarseness who wanted to get off her medication?
After explaining how it was possible that she may have low stomach acidity and a gut microflora imbalance, rather than a defective esophageal valve, I offered her this website to find a naturopathic physician who could decide if it was appropriate to walk her through the process of weaning herself off her acid blocker: FIND A DOCTOR.
The fact that I never saw the singer again is actually a good thing in my book! In my experience, the customers who get the help they need are the least likely to return to my aisle. I hope that's the case for her and she's singing her heart out!
Note from Kelly: It's important to address the root cause of your heartburn as Joanie describes above, but for immediate help and for the best heartburn relief, I've also heard of people having good results using ACV! (This is the best ACV in my opinion.) They either take a Tablespoon straight, or they mix a Tablespoon into 4 ounces of water. You wouldn't want to do this all the time, as I assume it can't be great for your teeth, but you may want to try it for short-term help.
Please share, what has helped you get to the root of your issue and give you heartburn relief?
Resources from Kelly
- Antacid Drugs Increase the Risk of Fracture
- Suffering from Digestive Problems?
- Digestive Issues Archives
Other Resources for the Best Heartburn Relief
- GERD Is Caused by Bacterial Overgrowth
- SIBO: What Causes It & Why It's So Hard to Fix
- The Importance of Good Digestion for Seniors
- Long-term Dangers of Acid Blockers
DON'T FORGET to get your free printable by clicking here: Top 25 Simple Ways to BOOST Your Health with Apple Cider Vinegar!
This was a post by my sweet friend, Joanie Blaxter, now a regular writer around here!
Joanie is the founder of Follow Your Gut and a health coach who has been in sales and education in the natural foods and products industry since the early 70’s, with her most recent six years spent as a vitamin specialist in a natural foods store.
Disclaimer: Neither Joanie nor I are health professionals! Use what you read here for your own research and then consult with a natural-minded doctor or health professional you trust to find what is best and right for YOU. Read my entire disclaimer here, and also note that there may be affiliate links in this post.